Tom Szaky

Speech Topics

TV stations, newspapers, radio stations and even blogs are in the business of disseminating great content, to entice us to tune in and spend time watching their channel or reading their copy. But content costs money to create, and so the media outlets turn to advertisers who buy up adspace to place their marketing messages. This has been the daily dance, many times played out in a “church vs. state” kind of manner – where editorial content and advertising content are kept religiously separate.

But what if we took a step back and changed the paradigm? Instead of paying for the advertising, why not get paid to be the content?

Negative-Cost Marketing is an exploration of this very question through the lens of Tom Szaky, who did it himself with no agencies, no advertising, and most importantly no budget. He has built a marketing platform around his unique global recycling company, TerraCycle, that today generates over 21 media placements per day, blogs for dozens of major media outlets from the New York Times to Huffington Post, has published multiple books, has its logo on over 60 billion products per year, holds major licensing deals, and is even the center of its own reality TV show series (now in its fourth season). Most of these projects generate more revenue than cost and have helped to establish a decade of year over year growth for their business.

The ideas in this talk topic can be applied to any organization small or large, and have helped TerraCycle to become a global company with over $20 million dollars of annual sales, all while generating revenue through its marketing department.

Hear about Tom’s success in starting a company, developing an innovative culture within the company and ultimately achieving success. This is the story of TerraCycle, from idea to 100% growth per year for five years, in over 10,000 big box stores, and growing. All products made from and packaged in waste. Cover of Inc. Magazine, full page NY Times and WS Journal stories and hundreds of stories annually.

What are opportunities in today’s environment? How can you see and capitalize on hidden assets and grow businesses in a constrained economy? The keys are quality, pricing, innovation and customer engagement. Using examples from TerraCycle, Tom Szaky explains the importance of a big idea, whether social mission or in a larger service context.

Szaky tells how to generate disproportionate press and to attract participation from your customers, laying out a strategic sales strategy with a green emphasis in the Obama era.


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Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of otherwise non-recyclable post-consumer and post-industrial waste. Across 21 countries TerraCycle creates national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration, in collaboration with the world’s largest brands (i.e. Mars to Pepsico to P&G), retailers (i.e. Staples to Target) to cities (i.e. Tokyo to New Orleans).

Through TerraCycle, Tom is pioneering a new waste management process, involving manufacturers, retailers, governments and consumers, to create circular solutions for materials such as cigarette butts, laboratory waste, coffee capsules and even food packaging that otherwise have no other path to be recycled.

Tom is the author of three books, Revolution in a Bottle (2009, Portfolio) and Outsmart Waste (2014, Berrett-Koehler) and Make Garbage Great (2015, HarperCollins). Tom created, produced and stars in a TerraCycle focused TV show, Human Resources currently airing on Pivot TV. Tom and TerraCycle have received over 200 social, environmental and business awards from a range of organizations including the United Nations, World Economic Forum, Forbes Magazine, Ernst & Young, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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